birds

A Reminder

By Danny Hart

We’ve had a visitor to our building over the last couple of weeks. He’s a beauty. And from the little I know of birds and what I could find online after his previous visit, he appears to be a red-tailed hawk. It’s a bit strange seeing such a huge bird perched in a courtyard in downtown Washington, DC on a snowy spring day. I would have thought he’d be more comfortable out in the marshes of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, or soaring the skies above Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

But, I think this visitor wanted pay a visit to remind us of the majesty and beauty that shares this planet we’re trying to protect.

About the author: Danny Hart is EPA’s Associate Director of Web Communications

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Climate Change is for the Birds

By Michael Rohwer

These are heady days for birders. My friend, an avid bird watcher, tells me that more and more species have been appearing near her home over the years.

These new sightings may be a sign of something bigger—bird species spreading into new territory may be an indicator of a changing climate. In fact, all “canary-in-the-coal-mine” references aside, birds make particularly good indicators of environmental change for several reasons:

  • Each species of bird has adapted to certain habitat types, food sources, and temperature ranges. In addition, the timing of certain events in their life cycles—such as migration and reproduction—is driven by cues from the environment. Changing conditions such as warming temperatures can influence the distribution of both migratory and non-migratory birds.
  • Birds are easy to identify and count, and there is a wealth of scientific knowledge about their distribution and abundance. People (like birders) have kept detailed records of bird observations for more than a century.
  • There are many different species of birds living in a variety of habitats, so if a change in habitats or habits occurs across a range of bird types, it suggests that a common force might be contributing.

The National Audobon Society’s Exit EPA Disclaimer observational data, featured in EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the U.S. Report, shows that the average bird species shifted northward to winter by 35 miles from 1966 to 2005. These trends are closely related to winter temperatures. Of the 305 species studied, 58% have shifted their wintering grounds significantly northward since the 1960s, though some others haven’t moved at all or move for other reasons (e.g., habitat alteration, food availability). This graph shows that shift north over time:

South

North

Some bird species adapt to generally warmer temperatures by changing where they live by migrating further north in the summer but not as far south in the winter. With more than 500 local chapters, the National Audobon Society makes it easy to collect vital data, through its annual Christmas Bird CountExit EPA Disclaimer the new Coastal Bird Survey, and other initiatives. I plan to dedicate some weekend mornings to birding. How about you? Maybe we’ll spot each other participating in the Christmas bird count so our observations can help tell the story of how bird wintering grounds are changing.

About the author: Michael Rohwer is a recent ORISE Fellow supporting the communications team in the Climate Change Division within the Office of Air and Radiation. When he’s not pursuing a career in protecting human health and the environment, you can find him enjoying gardening and sports.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Rehabilitating George, and other Injured Birds at the Raptor Trust

Red Tail Hawk with broken wing

Red Tail Hawk with broken wing

By Marcia Anderson

This Red Tail Hawk was found in March on the roadway of the George Washington Bridge by Bergen County Animal Control, so I will call him George.

In the wild, an injured wing is usually a death sentence for a bird, except this time, thanks to the Raptor Trust, located in Millington, N.J. The Raptor Trust is recognized as a national leader in the fields of raptor conservation, avian rehabilitation and the conservation of birds of prey. The “Trust” includes a hospital with state-of-the-art medical center, diagnostic facilities, and quality housing for several hundred injured, abandoned or poisoned birds brought to them from New York City and New Jersey.

Pictured below is the x-ray of George’s broken wing prior to surgery on April 21. At the fully equipped medical infirmary, veterinarian Dr. Andrew Major, pinned bone fragments back into place and treated an existing infection at the site of the injury. It will take months of care at the Raptor Trust for the bone in the wing to solidify before the pins can be removed. George is currently recovering from his surgery in an outdoor aviary. He is

eating and progressing nicely.  After his wing pins are removed and before he is allowed to be released, his joints must loosen by practicing short flights in an aviary cage. In the wild, hawks can attain speeds of over 150 mph when diving for their prey, so George must be completely rehabilitated before being released.

Broken wing X-ray

Broken wing X-ray

The Raptor Trust is open 365 days a year to receive injured and orphaned wild birds at their medical infirmary. The primary goal of the center is to restore good health or useful purpose to all birds. In 2011, the center had 3556 patients. They successfully rehabilitated 1644 of the birds including 203 raptors and 1441 non-raptors. Sadly, not all birds recover or can be fully rehabilitated. Unreleasable raptors may become part of the Raptor Trust’s captive breeding, foster parenting, or educational programs. Foster parent birds of the same species help to raise orphaned young and teach them correct behaviors, thereby avoiding human imprinting. Hundreds of young injured or abandoned raptors have been successfully released back into the wild as a result of the ‘Foster Bird Parent Program’.

All hawks are protected by state and federal laws. It is illegal to capture or kill a hawk, or to possess a hawk, alive or dead, without proper permits from both the State and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

What you can do to help prevent injuries to wild birds around your home….

  1. Avoid removing trees and shrubs in prime nesting season: spring and summer. Wait until fall when bird nests are no longer in use.
  2. Birds accidently fly into glass because they mistake reflections for reality, so disarm window and glass doors by disrupting their see-through or mirror-like qualities. You can place streamers, a windsock or lines of colored string across the outside of the window. A hawk silhouette taped to the glass, or decals, act as a danger sign to most birds. Interior lights will also eliminate or reduce reflections.

Visitors to the Raptor Trust are always welcome and are afforded a unique opportunity to view at close range the many hawks, eagles, falcons, vultures, and owls that are permanent residents in the aviaries at the facility. For more information go to:  http://theraptortrust.org/

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Around the Water Cooler: American Wetlands Month—and Your Dinner

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

ShrimpboatBayou country, located along the Gulf of Mexico, specifically Louisiana, has historically shaped the culture and the economy of the region. The Bayou—otherwise known as wetlands, swamps, or bogs—is an economic resource supporting commercial and sport fishing, hunting, recreation and agriculture.

Remember the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company? The shrimping business the fictional Forrest Gump started (and since inspired a real restaurant chain). Without clean and healthy wetlands, there’s no shrimping business, not in the movies and not in real life.

This month is American Wetlands Month and EPA is acknowledging the extensive benefits—or “ecosystem services”—that wetlands provide. From trapping floodwaters and recharging groundwater supplies to removing pollution and providing fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands improve water quality in nearby rivers, streams and lakes and even serve as a natural filter for our drinking water. They are the “kidneys” of our hydrologic cycle.

In Bayou Country, wetlands provide nearly all of the commercial catch and half the recreational harvest of fish and shellfish. They are extremely valuable to the region’s economy. Wetlands in the region provide the habitat for birds, alligators and crocodiles, muskrat, beaver, mink and a whole bunch of other important critters.

EPA researchers all over the country are looking at different ways to keep our wetlands clean and healthy. From nutrient pollution research and water quality research to buffers around rivers and stream habitat (“riparian zones”) and other green infrastructure efforts, scientists are ensuring that our wetlands can continue to do their work – providing a habitat, filtering out pollution, and supporting our economy.

This month, wherever you sit down to enjoy all the shrimp and seafood you can eat, remember that without healthy and clean wetlands, none of that would be possible.

For more information on how EPA scientists monitor and assess our wetlands, read here.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry loves clean water, healthy beaches and great seafood. A regular contributor to EPA’s It All Starts with Science blog, she helps communicate the great science in the Agency’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources Program.

 

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Things My Mother Taught Me

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By Lina Younes

As I look back at my relationship with my Mom over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve become an environmentalist largely due to the values that she instilled in me as a child. The love of nature, the interest in protecting wildlife, especially birds, the appreciation for flowering plants are some of the things that my mother taught me, not only in words, but through her actions. Lina's-Robin#

As far as I can remember, we always had flowering plants in the garden and indoor house plants as well. For many years, my mother had birdfeeders in our back yard. Given the fact that we lived in Puerto Rico where we enjoy summer-like weather all year round, our home definitely felt like a tropical oasis.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, my parents, both my grandmothers, and even great grandmother, were fortunate to have a green thumb. It seemed that anything they planted bloomed easily and flourished. I’ve tried to replicate their gardening skills at home as best as possible. I like to joke that our family’s green thumb seems to have skipped a generation in my case.

Nonetheless, I still try to create a welcoming natural environment around my home and a green environment indoors as well.

Lina's-Maple#So as we get ready to celebrate Mother’s Day,  I would like to thank my Mother for what she has taught me. I hope that I will transmit those teachings to my children so they will also appreciate nature and protect the environment. This Mother’s Day, as we have done during similar celebrations, we’ll probably go to Brookside Gardens. I promise I’ll take pictures.

Do you have any special plans for Mother’s Day? We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Harbinger of Spring

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By Lina Younes

Spring is the season associated with the awakening of nature and rebirth.  You see it in the trees and bushes that begin to sprout new shoots and buds. You see it in the leaves of the bulbs that are starting to push up through the ground. You see it the increasing activity of wildlife. And you hear it in the sounds of nature that rise from their wintry slumber.

The other day as I returned home from work, I noticed a loud chirping.  I looked around and found one robin redbreast perched at the very top of a tree. There were no other birds in sight.  In my mind, it seemed like he was calling “look at me” and proclaiming “spring is right around the corner.”

This time I was equipped with my camera in my handbag and was able to capture the scene.  Since that evening, I’ve seen plenty of robins actively hoping around my back yard. Now I’m looking forward to seeing other colorful birds visiting the area.

During springtime, it’s a great time to consider greenscaping techniques to have a greener and healthier yard to protect the environment and save money. By creating a healthier garden, you’ll be able to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of nature while creating a happier setting for your family, pets, wildlife and the environment as a whole.

Have you seen any early signs of spring in your neighborhood? As always, we love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The First Signs of Spring

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

There are always a lot of weather clichés: If March comes in like a lion, it will  go out like a lamb, etc.

I wonder if there is a rule to February. If it kicks off with a huge blizzard, and ends with soggy ground, well then I guess we’re just heading into New England’s Mud Season.  It may not be the prettiest time of year, but it is at least a sign that winter is losing its grip and spring will come.

Everyone remembers how mild last year was: we had crocuses blooming on February 26th.

Just a few weeks ago we had one of the bigger blizzards anyone around here can remember. But in the past few days, the temperature stayed (just slightly) above freezing, so we had buckets of rain, instead of feet of snow. Of course, with the ground still frozen, all that rain means a lot of standing water on the ground until it eventually filters into the soil. A soggy mess, or a sign of spring: your call.

It seems as if everybody up in New England pays special attention to the length of days during this time of year.  Even by late January, you start to notice that “Hey, a month ago it was dark at 4:30, and now it’s light half an hour longer.”  Meaning that by now, in early March, I see daylight through much of my commuter train ride home, until close to 6PM.

Right now, we’re only a few weeks away from changing the clocks for daylight savings time.  If only the temperature would catch up as quickly as the light!

The last few mornings I’ve also been cheered to hear the familiar “wheat wheat wheat” call of our resident cardinals, a familiar sound that I associate with the transition to spring. Of course the cardinals are a welcome presence at our backyard feeders all through the winter, but it’s only now that their activity changes and they start singing more.

All of this means that it is high time to dust off our seed catalogs and gardening books, and start planning what our early season vegetable garden will need, and what care will be needed for our other plants that are just now peeking out from under winter’s snowbanks.

About the author:  Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not at work, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Our Friendly Feathered Friends

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By Lina Younes

Ever since the beginning of the year, I have been noticing more the comings and goings of wild birds around my home.  For the past weeks, I’ve been hearing an increasing number of bird calls as well. While I didn’t quite recognize the distinct chirps or calls of the different birds, I can tell that they are coming from a wide variety of bird species.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, there is a pair of cardinals that is frequently visiting my backyard. I’ve seen blue jays and other birds in the wooded area behind my house, but they don’t seem to come to my garden while I have been around. I discussed the situation with my children and they suggested that I put bird feeders. “You can even put peanut butter on an acorn. That’s what we did at school,” proclaimed the youngest.

Frankly, I had been resisting the idea of bird-feeders for the longest time. I thought that by creating a bird-friendly environment in my backyard birds would visit regularly. I’ve prided myself with planting flowering plants, shrubs and trees that will provide birds and other pollinators with habitat, food and rest areas. There’s even a little creek nearby to provide water. I was opting for a natural approach. Personally, I didn’t want to get bird feeders because I didn’t want to feed the area squirrels nor did I want to attract unwanted rodents.

To feed or not to feed, that was the question! So, in the spirit of National Bird-Feeding Month, I finally decided to get a couple of bird feeders and birdseed for wild birds. I will be placing them strategically in my garden this weekend. I stress the word “strategically” because I don’t want to put them in location that will give easy access to those pesky squirrels. Nonetheless, I want to have them in a location where my family and I may feast our eyes with the site of the colorful avian visitors that will be flying by.

I hope to take some nice pictures of some blue jays, orioles and in the summer, some golden finches. I am looking forward to sharing the experience in future blogs. Stay tuned.

Do you have any bird-watching suggestions? Would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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It’s Not Always About You – or – Environmental Gratitude in my Work and Life

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Eric P. Nelson

Having recently emerged from the holiday season that now runs from the day my Jack-O-Lantern takes up its position on the compost pile to the day my Christmas tree gets tossed onto the grim-faced Jack-O-Lantern, I feel rather drained from all the sentiments of gratitude and goodwill that I have both expressed and received during this extended season. They’re genuine, mostly, and seem appropriate at the time, but I’ve now shifted into New England-style winter survival mode, and quite prefer it after a long season of excess.

Recently, I read an article about “environmental gratitude.” The term was new to me, but after I read the article I realized I had discovered what motivates and guides me at work, and in many aspects of my life. Environmental gratitude was defined as, “a finely tuned propensity to notice and feel grateful for one’s surroundings on a regular basis, which generates pervasive attitudes of concern for planetary welfare and commitment to contribute ecological benefits to the extent of one’s ability.” It’s a bit dense to digest, but the article goes on to describe the phrase in simpler terms.

Unlike the gratitude one may feel during the holidays, environmental gratitude is not beholden to particular benefactors, does not require mutual intentionality (Thank you for that 2,000-calorie holiday meal!). Instead, simply recognizing and appreciating the very existence of the natural world and your connection to it can instill a sense of gratitude that can, in turn, influence your general attitude about protecting nature and motivate you to take action.

This has happened to me over the course of my life, and it’s how I approach my work at EPA, at least most days. No thanks sought, or needed, from those living things in the watery world that hopefully benefit from my actions. In truth, though, I do get thanked through my interactions with the natural world. And while I’ve seen nature in some of its most impressive forms, I’m just as enchanted by brief encounters close to home: a passing glimpse of a hawk flying through Boston Common; a hummingbird pausing on a branch above my shed; crows calling, winter quiet in snowy woods; a pungent whiff of exposed mudflat on a lonely beach; the jewel-like stars overhead at my bus stop on a clear, dark winter morning; the iridescent beetle that landed oh so briefly on the back of my wife’s neck. Such encounters are everywhere for all those who care to take notice. And to me, they matter.

The article, “Environmental Gratitude and Ecological Action,” by Richard Matthews, was featured on the website.

About the author: Eric Nelson works in the Ocean and Coastal Protection Unit of EPA New England in Boston, but prefers being underwater with the fishes. He lives in a cape on Cape Cod with his wife and two daughters, and likes pesto on anything.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Power of Partnerships: Habitat Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay

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Brown pelicans are among the many species of birds that visit Poplar Island

By Ross Geredien

Last November, I accompanied U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists to inspect a unique habitat restoration project led by the FWS Chesapeake Bay office. Here’s my account of that day:

The wind stings my face as we skim across the water. To my left, the bay’s silvery sheen meets leaden clouds at the southern horizon. I look to my right and see a northern gannett, a large, oceanic bird, floating on the surface.

I’m on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service workboat, heading across Chesapeake Bay at 24 knots. It’s a brisk morning, and our destination is Poplar Island, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deposits the dredge spoil from Baltimore Harbor’s approach channels.

Poplar once boasted a lively fishing community, complete with weekend retreats and abundant wildlife. From 1840 to 1990, erosion reduced the island to just 10 acres. Since 1998, however, spoil deposits have restored Poplar to over 1,100 acres of productive marshland, and wildlife is once again flourishing.

Upon reaching the island, some 90 brown pelicans perch nearby. “It’s unusual to see this many,” says Chris Guy, one of the biologists. “Especially this late in the season,” responds Pete McGowan, another biologist. We discuss how recent storms have blown them off-course. They have found refuge at Poplar.

Over 200 bird species use Poplar Island during the year. As we explore the island, thousands of geese and ducks congregate on large, artificial ponds called cells. We also see uncommon species: night-herons, dowitchers, swans, and loons. The abundant waterfowl attract predators like birds of prey. Indeed, in the afternoon a rare short-eared owl flushes from the grass. “First of the season!” shouts Chris.

What makes all this possible? Poplar Island is a partnership among federal and state agencies. The Corps of

Aerial view of Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay (Photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Engineers manages the dredge spoil operation under the Clean Water Act. The Maryland Environmental Service monitors water quality and nutrients while the Fish and Wildlife Service supervises the restoration. The University of Maryland also investigates a variety of ecological questions here. As a fellow working in the EPA’s wetlands program and a former biologist with the Maryland Wildlife Service, this intersection of wildlife, Chesapeake Bay, and clean water issues naturally resonates with me.

The weather has turned fair as we depart, wind-blown spray glistening in the sunlight. I leave Poplar with a new appreciation of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and the efforts to restore its habitat.

About the author: Ross Geredien is a fellow with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education serving in the EPA’s Office of Water, where he works on wetlands permitting issues. Previously, Ross was a wildlife biologist for the Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources where he mapped the state’s rare, threatened and endangered species.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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